Comparing Thunderbirds Are Go to the live-action Thunderbirds movie is like comparing cream to excrement. There just isn’t any reasonable comparison. But comparing Thunderbirds Are Go to the original Thunderbirds series is much more productive. On one hand, the animated show is very much a genuine remake of the series that captures the charm and grace of the original, but – on the other hand – it does have problems of its own.
(Before you go any father, read my original review here. I’m being a little more negative in this article.)
The original series worked, as a general rule, because it never talked down to kids. Thunderbirds was never a show where the evil plots of adult gangsters were foiled by a bunch of meddling brats. It was a show about adults, even as it was aimed at children. The handful of children who did appear in the series were children, not mini-adults. (This is part of the reason the movie flopped.) Overall, Thunderbirds Are Go manages to avoid that pitfall (mostly). But it does have some problems that need to be acknowledged.
The first one, perhaps, is that the writers are trying to cram too much into fairly short episodes (the original series episodes were twice as long). This means that a number of plotlines are mentioned, then discarded; there just isn’t the time to explore them properly. When an episode is focused on a single problem, that doesn’t matter so much, but when there needs to be two plots running in tandem, one suffers more than the other. This is particularly noticeable in Chain Of Command, where Lady Penelope’s investigation into Colonel Janus takes second place to International Rescue’s troubled attempt to carry out a mission. (The same sidelining of the Lady Penelope plot can also be seen in Under Pressure.) There just isn’t the time for moments of introspection intermingled with action.
The second is the show’s treatment of its female characters, which is partly a regression from its roots. The first Lady Penelope was a middle-aged woman who was a cool, composed secret agent, effortlessly balancing her life with her work. Thunderbirds Are Go has a girl who is, at most, in her early twenties, who sounds faintly ridiculous when compared to the original character. (She acts like a film star, complete with a tiny doggie.) The relationship between her and Parker feels off to me; there’s no reason why he would respect her, not when he’s clearly a great deal older and more mature (and I don’t think she respects him that much). There is an attempt to explain this, by suggesting that it was Penny’s father who recruited Parker rather than Penny herself, but it isn’t convincing.
Kayo has a slightly different problem. The original format of the show didn’t have a place for her, leaving her as the Sixth Ranger. She’s much more of a badass than Penny, but like far too many ‘strong female characters’ she was created without much of an idea of what the writers could actually do with her. She is, in fact, largely missing from much of the show. The tension she feels because of her heritage – she’s the Hood’s niece – is artificial. There’s nothing stopping her from telling the Tracy brothers long before it blows up in her face – and Grandma Tracy, who already knows, would have backed her up. Again, this is something that could probably have been solved with longer episodes – the two-part Ring of Fire managed to showcase each of the characters very well.
The third is that the show does have some pretty odd (and jarring) morals for children.
Gerry Anderson was a product of a time where science and technology was the answer to everything, particularly atomic power. The original Thunderbirds were all piloted by atomic power, along with many other vehicles. Thunderbirds Are Go, however, has a strong anti-nuke message that, quite frankly, grates. (I’d be more forgiving if it was a pro-fusion message, I suppose, but there’s no hint of what replaces nuclear power.) And then the episode where the power goes out in London leaves Virgil (normally the level-headed one) fretting over how much he relies on technology. It’s a pretty silly moral when International Rescue can only operate because of its high technology. Without Thunderbird Two, Virgil struggles to carry out a rescue that would have been easy with his mighty ship.
And then there’s the episode where Virgil comes home, on his birthday, to discover that his family have eaten all the cake while he was out, a rather OOC moment for the Tracy brothers …
The fourth is that a couple of episodes are very definitely more aimed at children than adults. A particular offender is Designated Driver, which has an absurd premise (Alan, who flies a rocket ship and various pod-vehicles, learning to drive FAB-1) and includes a great deal of slapstick humour that fails to amuse. Ned (who has had at least three different jobs, as the plot demands) talks to his potted plant (and it seems to talk back). And what looks like Parker preparing to beat information out of a security guard turns into said guard having his photograph taken with Penny’s dog. (Said dog is also prone to chewing on Parker’s trousers at bad moments.)
Overall, Thunderbirds Are Go is definitely a fun way to spend half an hour. But it doesn’t quite come up to the standards of the original series.